HR Management & Compliance

Workers with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities: Eight Core Safety Competencies They Must Learn

By Jennifer Busick
If you employ workers with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs), you’re dealing with a population that needs some targeted attention in order to prevent injuries. Guest columnist Jennifer Busick has compiled eight key safety competencies that these employees must develop in training.

Workers with IDDs are often found in light manufacturing, recycling, assembly, janitorial tasks, industrial laundries, landscaping services, and warehouse work—jobs that don’t require high-level skills but that pose a higher-than-average injury risk. What can you do to reduce the risk for these workers?
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the rate of workplace injury among employees in vocational rehabilitation programs is more than 60% higher than that of injured workers as a whole. (Out of every 100 workers in these settings, 5.5 workers are injured on the job as compared to 3.2 out of 100 workers who are injured on the job in general work settings.)  NIOSH has identified training as an area where employers can make a positive impact on safety for this worker population and has created a training curriculum that employers can use to address these workers’ specific needs. Keep reading to find out more.

Training for an Overlooked Worker Group

Health and safety training is a weak area for many employers, but when it comes to workers who need targeted training programs—like workers with IDDs—the problem becomes even more pronounced. Few employers provide comprehensive health and safety training for these workers. Instead, the training given to workers with IDDs tends to be limited to task-based coaching. When all a worker knows is how to perform his or her specific job task, the worker will lack the skills to assess new environments and to problem solve when the situation or task changes or when something unexpected happens. All workers, including workers with IDD, need to learn and practice these skills in a safe environment where the instructor can teach them, and then they can learn from one another.
NIOSH’s new curriculum, Staying Safe at Work, is specifically designed to provide this type of training for workers with IDD. The six-lesson training program is designed to help develop basic occupational safety and health core competencies in all workers with IDD.

Core Competencies for Workers with IDD

Although employers may not realize it, workers with IDD can learn to identify and respond appropriately to hazards in the workplace. NIOSH has identified eight core competencies that workers with IDD need to develop. Workers with IDD can develop sufficient skills and knowledge to enable them to:

  1. Recognize that they, like all workers, can be injured, become sick, or even be killed on the job. They need to know how workplace risks can affect their lives and their families.
  2. Recognize that work-related injuries and illnesses are predictable and can be prevented.
  3. Identify hazards at work, evaluate risks, and predict how workers can be injured or made sick.
  4. Recognize how to prevent injury and illness, learn the best ways to address workplace hazards, and apply these concepts to specific workplace problems.
  5. Identify emergencies at work, and decide on the best ways to address them.
  6. Recognize employer and worker rights and responsibilities that play a role in safe and healthy work.
  7. Find resources that help keep them safe and healthy on the job.
  8. Communicate with others, including people in authority roles, to ask questions or report problems or concerns when they feel unsafe or threatened.

We’ll look at specific training objectives that can help workers with IDD develop these core competencies in tomorrow’s Advisor.

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